Jul 232016

I have a black thumb, so flowers never survive around me. Nonetheless, I love blooms of all kinds, so I surround myself with flowers that won’t die—silk flowers, paper flowers, floral scents, floral-embellished bed linens, and so on. In one of my Etsy shops, JN Originals, I sell crocheted flower brooches.


When I started binding my own books and selling them in Mister PenQuin, I knew the covers would be embellished with flowers. At first, I purchased packages of paper flowers. I particularly appreciated the dainty ones made by Prima, but gradually I began altering purchased paper or silk flowers.

Altered Store-Bought Flowers

Today I most enjoy fashioning handmade flowers from paper, fabric and fibers, but I can’t justify tossing away my remaining store-bought collection. As a result, I am still working my way through the flowers I have purchased.


Still, it’s fun to experiment with different kinds of handmade flowers.

Handmade Flowers

A few weeks ago, a customer approached me and asked if I could make her a password book using a flower from one of my gratitude journals, but the paper from a password book. Obviously, I couldn’t take apart the two books to meet her request, but fortunately the paper she liked was a digital one I had purchased from a graphic designer who allows you to sell handmade items using her digital papers. The flower, on the other hand, was from a package I had purchased from Hobby Lobby. Not only was it no longer available, but I didn’t want to buy yet more pre-assembled flowers. I offered to re-create the flower so that it would be similar to, but not exactly like, the purchased flower adhered to the book in my shop.

The customer asked for the flower on the left, but the paper on the right.

The customer asked for the flower on the left, but the paper on the right.

To re-create the flower, I stamped white Bazzill card stock with an Old French Writing rubber stamp by Hero Arts and brown Hero Hues Latte Chalk Ink, also by Hero Arts.


Then, I cut out flower shapes in graduated sizes using Donna Salazar’s Carnation Creations die set by Spellbinders.


I layered the flowers, glued a wooden ball to the center, and adhered it to the cover of a book. My buyer was pleased, as you can see.

Final Password Book

Designing handmade flowers is time-consuming—you probably won’t be paid for your time if you sell the items you embellish with them—but it is infinitely satisfying. It also gives me a chance to use my overflowing collection of dies, inks, stamps and papers. If you also like to create paper flowers, you may be interested in reading the following tutorials on my blog, which include links to other resources.

An old nursery rhyme asks, “Mary, Mary, quite contrary: how does your garden grow?” My answer, of course, is with paper, fabric, fiber and glue, all wrapped together with a little imagination and a lot of love.  That’s the story behind my flowers!

© 2016 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.


Jul 172016

I love reading about how people learned their craft, whatever it may be. In particular, I enjoy sewing stories, as that is where my craft story begins. My tale is stitched together with love, memories, and a chronicle of the times. It doesn’t begin, however, with a daughter learning about the craft next to her mother’s or grandmother’s knee. I had a junior high school friend who probably learned how to sew that way, and she eventually wrote sewing books and became a guest instructor at a quilting workshop hosted by Nancy Zieman of the “Sewing with Nancy” program on Wisconsin Public TV.


My own story has a much humbler beginning at the one-and-only Girl Scouts meeting I attended during grade school. Why a single meeting? It took place at a public school, and my mother—who grew up in World War II Germany where you had to pay for everything, from using a public bathroom to taking books home from the library—believed from the bottom of her heart that if something took place on American public school grounds, that meant it was free. America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, just as “The Star-Spangled Banner” promises. Not free? It wasn’t meant to be! But the one day I attended a Girl Scouts meeting, when I discovered we had to pay weekly dues, the girls learned how to hem bandanas.

“Your daughter is going to be a good sewer,” the Girl Scout leader told my mother, as she pointed out the even spacing between my stitches.

Those words were exactly what my mother, who hated sewing, needed to hear. “I’m not very good at it,” she told me later.

She related a story about some yellow curtains she stitched during sewing class when she was a young girl. All of her fellow students finished curtains they were proud to gift to their mothers or hang up in their bedrooms, but my mother’s curtains were shorter on one end than the other, and the hand stitching was visibly ragged. Many years later she crossed the Pond to visit her mother in Germany, and was horrified to see those yellow curtains hanging up in the kitchen.

“Why do you still have those miserable things?” she asked her mother.

“Because you made them, dear.”

I was reminded of my own answer to our son when he asked me why I kept his earliest handmade Christmas ornaments. If it was left up to him, they would be memories long relegated to the weekly curbside trash collection. But every December when he comes home for Christmas, I hang them up on the tree.

Needless to say, my mother was delighted to turn over to me the task of darning my father’s and brother’s socks. I don’t think many people darn anymore, but you can still find a darning egg at JoAnn.com for $9.99, and I found several vintage varieties on Etsy. Nonetheless, I’m proud to say I can darn a mean sock. I used a two-sided plastic darning egg with a handle on the end—red for light socks, and white for dark socks. Darning is really nothing more than weaving with a needle. The darning egg provides the fabric support, but your sock is the loom, in a sense. The threads going in one direction provide the warp, and your threads going in the other direction represent the weft, or weaving thread.

The darning egg I used was similar to this one, offered by minnismall on Etsy, https://www.etsy.com/listing/387210396/vintage-red-and-white-plastic-darning.

The darning egg I used was similar to this one, offered by minnismall on Etsy, https://www.etsy.com/listing/387210396/vintage-red-and-white-plastic-darning.

I remember summers when I sliced through a stack of trousers that my brother, Mark, had outgrown, with instructions to cut them off at the knee and hem them into shorts. When anyone’s shirts or blouses had loose or missing buttons, my mother handed over her sewing basket and a glass coffee jar, filled with buttons. I didn’t mind; from the earliest days I enjoyed working with my hands. Today, I have my own jars filled with buttons, as well as the sewing basket she left behind when my mother passed away.



I was introduced to machine sewing in a required 7th grade home economics class, when all girls learned how to read a pattern and thread a Singer sewing machine. We practiced stitching over inked lines on mimeographed sheets of paper before we graduated to fabric. Our first project was a checked gingham fabric half-apron, embellished with rick-rack trim. We were given a shopping list of sewing supplies that had to be kept in a clear plastic shoe box in the classroom. My mother, of course, had forgotten—probably by choice—the difference between a sewing gauge and a seam ripper, so I went shopping with my father. He was a tool-and-die maker, and to him a sewing machine was just another workshop tool. The next class project was a gray kettle cloth jumper, not a British jumper that’s really a pullover sweater, but instead a sleeveless, shapeless dress with basic bust darts and a center-lapped zipper down the back. I don’t have photos of these earliest efforts, but I’m sure you can find one in Amy Barickman’s book, Vintage Notions. These garments of the early 70s are today’s definition of retro.

Even though my mother did not enjoy sewing, she was eager to encourage my efforts. She enrolled me in a summer sewing class at Gimbel’s Department Store back in the days when most major department stores had fabric departments. Although Gimbel’s, once the largest department store chain in the U.S., is no longer in business, I worked there as a “flyer” during my college years, serving customers in a different department every time I showed up to work. Unlike my home economics class, where we had relatively little freedom to choose a project, we could sew anything we wished during this class. I wanted to learn how to insert sleeves and a lapped zipper, so I made myself a pink empire-waist dress with a fitted lace insert, puffed three-quarter length sleeves, a faced neckline, and a lapped zipper. My father bought the first family sewing machine, a Brother machine that we learned how to thread together and that he later used to mend garments long after I had moved on to college, married and moved away.

During my high school and college years, there was little time for sewing, other than mending, but when my then-boyfriend, now-husband, John, attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison on a Navy ROTC scholarship, I was invited to partner him at the annual Naval balls.  It was much more affordable to sew a long dress than to buy one, but the first time I had to tackle such a big project I needed some help. John’s roommate’s girlfriend, Holly, helped me pin the pattern pieces, cut them out and sew the dress. This helped me to develop the confidence to make future ball gowns and, eventually, my own wedding dress and veil.

We got engaged in October, 1977, at the Navy ROTC ball. The dress I am wearing was sewn from a Vogue pattern.

We got engaged in October, 1977, at the Navy ROTC ball. The dress I am wearing was sewn from a Vogue pattern.

When I began working at a publishing company after college graduation, I used some of my earnings to buy my own Singer sewing machine that featured removable cams for different kinds of stitches. Cams, for those of you who are unfamiliar with them, preceded built-in digital stitches in electronic sewing machines.

SewingMech on Etsy sells this complete set of Flexi-Stitch Top Hat cams for Singer Touch & Sew machines: https://www.etsy.com/listing/242452133/full-set-singer-flexi-stitch-top-hat

SewingMech on Etsy sells this complete set of Flexi-Stitch Top Hat cams for Singer Touch & Sew machines: https://www.etsy.com/listing/242452133/full-set-singer-flexi-stitch-top-hat

It was John, who loves gadgets, who urged me to trade in my Singer sewing machine for a digital Pfaff machine. We were strolling through a local mall at the time, when he stopped before a window display that sported a sewing machine with a scrolling message that announced, “Hello. I am the Pfaff 1471.” John grabbed my arm and pulled me through the doorway of the shop. The next thing I knew, I owned a new sewing machine that churned out dresses and skirts, play clothes and Halloween costumes for our son, and family gifts such as aprons, pillows and pillowcases, pot holders, bed caddies, Christmas tree skirts and stockings, and much more.

Word CloudThat Pfaff sewing machine was a faithful companion for more than a decade until the day we visited Nancy’s Notions in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin—yes, that same Nancy who still hosts a television show on Wisconsin Public TV. While I was fabric-shopping, John was upgrading me to a Pfaff Creative 7530. This one sews without human intervention. Well, almost. I did mention, didn’t I, that John is my Gadget Man?


We sold the old machine, but I still have that Pfaff Creative 7530 today, with lots of extra accessories. But about six years ago, John decided it was time for me to have an embroidery machine. You guessed it; he bought me a new Pfaff sewing machine, but this time the shop owner convinced me that I should keep the other machine so that I could have multiple projects going on at the same time. Since that’s my nature, anyway—to have my fingers in many proverbial pots simultaneously—I was pretty easy to convince. Both sewing machines now sit in a nursery-sized bedroom that is just large enough for two projects at one time. The other projects spill into the kitchen, and onto any horizontal surface I can find. If you sew, I’m sure this sounds familiar. Sewing does not lend itself to neatness. Never say never, but I believe my last sewing machine is really the last sewing machine that John will buy. We’ve run out of space.


One of the things I have discovered about sewing is that it’s a community—whether a friend is helping you lay out pattern pieces and interpret the instructions—or you are participating in the online version of an old-fashioned sewing bee, such as the Bag of the Month Club in which I have participated during the last few years. Sewists share photos of completed projects on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and blogs; participate in blog hops, and meet in local library conference rooms, school classrooms and church meeting rooms to quilt, chat and snack. They discuss handy sewing techniques and recommend notions to each other while standing in the fabric store aisles, becoming fast friends on the fly. At one of the first jobs I worked at in southern California, during our first year of marriage, an instant bond grew out of a shared love for sewing when my co-worker presented me with a pin cushion she embroidered by hand, well-loved, worn, and still sitting in my sewing room.


Over the years I shared my passion for sewing with others by imparting a small part of my knowledge. Like many sewists, I worked part-time as a clerk in a fabric store—at Cloth World in southern California, and at So-Fro Fabrics (that eventually became JoAnn Fabrics) in Iowa—where I helped customers choose fabrics and notions, and I recommended sewing techniques. I taught my homeschooled neighbor’s daughter how to sew, and she turned that knowledge into a sewing business for herself while she was still in middle school. When I managed an all-boys’ Destination Imagination (creative problem-solving) team for my son and his middle school friends, I taught them how to thread a machine, stitch a straight line, and join fabrics. As a result, the boys were able to help each other design and sew their own costumes.

The objective in Destination Imagination is for kids to solve a challenge without adult assistance. Adults can teach kids basic skills, but then it's up to the students to apply what they learn--in this case, simple Egyptian costumes for three of the team members.

The objective in Destination Imagination is for kids to solve a challenge without adult assistance. Adults can teach kids basic skills, but then it’s up to the students to apply what they learn–in this case, simple Egyptian costumes for three of the team members.

My son used that same sewing knowledge to sew a costume for National History Day competition, and today—as an adult—he designs and sells medieval-style leatherwork pieces that he stitches by hand. He, too, has a Pfaff sewing machine—carrying on the family tradition—that he has used to sew period clothing.

This is a quiver, arm guard and arrows our son, David, recently completed. Interested is custom work from him? Contact him at davnolan88@gmail.com.

This is a quiver, arm guard and arrows our son, David, recently completed. Interested is custom work from him? Contact him at davnolan88@gmail.com.

Sewing is so much more than a skill you pass on to the next generation. Both the time you spend with others and the items you produce are gifts of the heart, building memories that will last far into the future. Although my mother claimed to have no skill in sewing, I have a four-year-old’s memory of her snipping off a final thread from a doll’s dress as she removed it from the bed of a treadle machine and handed it to me. Sewing binds us together with every stitch, imperfect or not. In the comments below, feel free to share your sewing story.

© 2016 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

Jul 102016

The perfect opportunity to use my Spellbinders Create a Sunflower die set occurred last month when a customer requested a password book with a sunflower embellishment. The five-piece die set includes petals, a starburst-shaped petal base, a floral center, and two leaves.

Die Set

You start off by die cutting 10 sets of yellow petals and four yellow petal bases, one brown floral center, and as many leaves as you’d like. I punched out four leaves and used all of them.


I completed the rest of the password book ahead of time using the following papers:

  • Cover – Sunshine card stock from Doodlebug Design and August Flourish paper from Graphic 45’s Time to Flourish Collection
  • Inside cover – Mushrooms from Jillibean Soup’s Fresh Vegetable Soup papers
  • End papers (1st and last pages) – Mellow Yellow Double Dot from BoBunny’s DoubleDot Designs line

Book Collage

I began the process of assembling the sunflower by inking the edges of the petals and leaves with Tim Holtz Distress Ink. I used Scattered Straw for the petals, and Peeled Paint for the leaves. It’s not absolutely necessary to ink the edges of your paper, but I think it defines the small pieces better if you do so.

Distress Inking

The pieces are so small, in fact, that I used a paint palette to organize them.


I glued each set of petal leaves to a sunburst-shaped petal base, using the points to help space the petals apart evenly. If you don’t have a die cutting machine or a sunflower die, you can still create a paper sunflower by cutting leaves by hand, or with leaf-motif punches in three or four different sizes. The sunburst-shaped petal base can be replaced by a circle on which you draw lines to divide the circle into pie-shaped wedges. The lines of the wedges mark the spots where you should glue the leaves. As you can see, I ended up with four sizes of petals, intended to be layered.


I used a McGill stylus and molding mat to add dimension to the petals, using the ball of the stylus in a circular motion to break up the fibers of the paper and curl the leaves a little bit. Don’t have a stylus? Use the capped end of a felt-tipped marker and a mouse pad.


You’ll see that the completed sunflower below does not use the originally-cut brown paper floral center, but instead a button from my button stash. Some people like to use a glue gun for work like this, but I prefer Beacon Fabric-Tac Permanent Adhesive because it is acid-free and very strong.


It does take a bit of time and patience to craft a paper sunflower, but the process is relaxing. I suspect you’ll see more sunflowers on the covers of future books in my Etsy shop.

© 2016 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.